Monday, June 27, 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Creamy Polenta

Braised Lamb Shanks is one of the ultimate comfort foods. A delicious dish that's cooked in an aromatic sauce for about 2-3 hours until the meat is so moist and tender, it's literally falling off the bone! I'm a great fan of lamb, and was inspired to make these Braised Lamb Shanks with Creamy Polenta after having had dinner recently with an old Italian friend. Since then, Italy has been on my mind and polenta was not far behind.

'Braising', from the french word 'braiser', is a cooking method that uses both moist and dry heat. The lamb shanks are first seared in some olive oil to brown the meat and enhance the flavour. They are then simmered in an aromatic liquid of red wine, orange peel, fresh squeezed orange juice, rosemary, cloves, bay leaves, tomato paste, 
sautéed onions and broth, creating the most wonderful sauce. The scent is intoxicating and permeates the kitchen, like mulled wine.

The lamb is then braised for two hours or so, until the shanks are lovely, moist and tender. The braising liquid is reduced a further 30 minutes until it's quite thick and even more full flavoured. Just before serving the lamb, the shanks are basted with the sauce and served over a blanket of silky smooth polenta, which, having been spiked with cream, butter and cheese, is a meal in itself. And for a final flourish — a towering sprig of rosemary! Buon appetito.

Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 4
Inspired by a recipe by Lidia Bastianich

2 cups hot water
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 large oranges
8 bay leaves
6 large rosemary sprigs, and extra for garnish
8 cloves
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cups onions, finely chopped
4 lamb shanks
2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 cups chicken broth

2 cups water
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup Pecorino cheese, shredded
1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter

Combine 2 cups hot water and porcini in small bowl. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from oranges in long strips. Squeeze juice from oranges, reserving peel and juice.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper and add 2 lamb shanks to the pot. Sauté until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining shanks. Return the onions to the pot.

Using slotted spoon, add porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, leaving any sediment in the bowl. Add orange peel and juice, herbs, wine, and tomato paste. Boil 5 minutes, scraping up browned bits. Return lamb to pot, arranging in single layer. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Partially uncover pot, and simmer until lamb is tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning every 15 minutes.

Transfer lamb to a bowl. Tilt pot and spoon fat off top of sauce. Boil until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon lightly and is reduced to 5 cups, about 35 minutes. Discard herbs and orange peel. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return lamb to pot, spooning sauce over to coat. (Note: the recipe can be made 1 day ahead at this point. Refrigerate lamb, uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat before continuing).

To make the polenta: In a large saucepan, bring the water, cream a
nd butter to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water and quickly whisk in the polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy. Add the Pecorino. Check for seasoning and adjust consistency by adding milk or water to the polenta. Polenta may be made up to 20 minutes ahead of time and kept warm and covered until ready to serve.

To serve: Spoon the polenta onto large platter or into individual serving bowls. Arrange lamb on top of the polenta, and spoon some of the sauce around the polenta and serve, garnishing each serving with a spire of rosemary.